Society and culture of the Han dynasty
The Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) was a period of ancient China divided by the Western Han (206 BC – 9 AD) and Eastern Han (25–220 AD) periods, when the capital cities were located at Chang'an and Luoyang, respectively. It was founded by Emperor Gaozu of Han and briefly interrupted by the regime of Wang Mang (r. 9–23 CE) who usurped the throne from a child Han emperor.The Han dynasty was an age of great economic, technological, cultural, and social progress in China. Its society was governed by an emperor who shared power with an official bureaucracy and semi-feudal nobility. Its laws, customs, literature, and education were largely guided by the philosophy and ethical system of Confucianism, yet the influence of Legalism and Daoism (from the previous Zhou dynasty) could still be seen. Members of the scholarly-gentry class who aspired to hold public office were required to receive a Confucian-based education. A new synthetic ideology of Han Confucianism was created when the scholar Dong Zhongshu (179–104 BCE) united the Confucian canon allegedly edited by Kongzi, or Confucius (551–479 BCE), with cosmological cycles of yin and yang and the Chinese five elements.Although the social status of nobles, officials, farmers, and artisan-craftsmen were considered above the station of the lowly registered merchant, wealthy and successful businessmen acquired huge fortunes which allowed them to rival the social prestige of even the most powerful nobles and highest officials. Slaves were at the bottom of the social order, yet they represented only a tiny portion of the overall population. Retainers attached themselves to the estates of wealthy landowners, while medical physicians and state-employed religious occultists could make a decent living. People of all social classes believed in various deities, spirits, immortals, and demons. While Han Daoists were organized into small groups chiefly concerned with achieving immortality through various means, by the mid 2nd century CE they formed large hierarchical religious societies that challenged imperial authority and viewed Laozi (fl. 6th century BCE) as a holy prophet.The typical Han-era Chinese household contained a nuclear family with an average of four to five members, unlike in later dynasties when multiple generations and extended family members commonly lived in the same household. Families were patrilineal, which made the father the supreme head of the house. Arranged marriages were the norm, while a new wife was expected to join the clan of her husband. Having sons over daughters was considered extremely important for the sake of carrying on ancestor worship. Although girls and women were expected by custom and Confucian tradition to behave passively towards their male relatives, mothers were given a familial status above that of their sons. Women also engaged in various professions in and outside of the home and were given protection under the law. The empress was superior in status to the male relatives of her consort clan, while the mother of the emperor—the empress dowager—had the authority to override his decisions and choose his successor (if one had not been appointed before his death).